It was no accident that I arrived in China; it was a conscious decision for the wrong reasons masked as good. I remember the advise of my counselor while still planning away my next adventure in the Career Centre of my University: "Well, if what you are looking for is to challenge your perceptions, China is definitely the place to be". This was back in the days when I was hoping to land a job in the United Nations and, having made a rough assessment of my international and language skills I decided that a bit of Asian exposure will augment my chances to break into the UN...eventually. That hasn't happened.

But little did I know that what I was going to embark on more than a year-long sabbatical; I was booking a front seat as a witness in the decade of China.

I remember flying over Kamkachta in Russia (or so I estimated while checking the in-flight GPS in front of me). Up in the air I didn't think I was heading for the most populous continent, I was looking at the desolation, vastness and remoteness of the seemingly exotic landscape below me. "One of these days" by Zend Avesta was playing in my iPod.

Funny that the first words I spoke as soon as I landed were those of my native tongue, Spanish. A businessman from New York crossed a few words with me while we were going to claim our luggage. I'm positive he's still around and doing better than ever, or so I want to believe for people that have known how to maneuver their way in China they are normally handsomely rewarded. Especially when you become "a friend of China" even if it is just because your stubbornness to give up on such a huge opportunity of making it big in this country, or just for the fear of going back home with a bit more than a nihao and the snapshot of the great wall under your belt.

My contact was supposed to pick me up at 3. My lack of intercontinental experience couldn't had been more obvious as I mistakenly informed her to be at 3 AM; but of course I was 12 hours early due to the strange movement of Earth called rotation. Ah, laowai indeed.

The stench of beijing filled my nostrils as I remember it was one of those muggy days in late summer where you have this combination of fog, mist, smog, thick layers of suspended chemicals that seemed to trap the haste of the Mandarin characteristic of Beijing. A phone call solved my problem and she said that she would be there 2 or 3 hours...that's a very good timing for those of you who are not familiar with the peculiar Beijing space/time continuum.

So I stayed there, quiet, with my iPod sort of protecting me still from the harsh oriental truth that I had left my western world behind. I had a smile in my face, and a question throbbing in my head: "what the hell am I doing here?"

"Oscar?" she asked. Yep, my smile broadened and headed to take a taxi. My very first taxi experience in China. One of many, and a dozen a dime in the foreign expat community...This was in the early 2000s; taxis were rather humble, third-world country still. I told Jane how much Beijing looked like Mexico City....just communist. But the similarities were there: gray, boring, chaotic and raw.

We headed to the well renowned "Friendship Hotel", one of the authorized hotels in Beijing that could host foreigners. As we drove past the main entrance Jane, who is Canadian and grew up in Oregon was explaining me that the hotel has some great gardens. When I saw the gardens as I was carrying my luggage around to the main entrance of my building I realized that Jane had been in China a bit too long and had either forgotten the green of the grass back home or, more possibly, taken in too much gray in her life that sad patches of vegetation were for a moment the highlight of our conversation.

When I entered my room I felt like in one of those scenes of an old James Bond flick when he meets with capos in a fallen Soviet state. The conditions of the room were....very...Leninist. Made a couple of phone calls, checked the facilities, the chinglish and a quiet anxiety possessed me for a I was checking the free toothbrush offered by the hotel, the wooden room control panel, the 70s wallpaper and lack of internet in my room, I came to the chilling realization that I was for the the very first time in my life up in the air and completely vulnerable to an alter reality. I also had bought a one-way ticket. For good or bad, my rushed decision to seek ever bigger challenges blew up in my face at that very moment.


Created with images by sharonang - "wood door ancient door locks treats" • kuhnmi - "Beautiful Kamchatka" • istolethetv - "scenic" • Dino Kuznik - "untitled image" • poeloq - "IMG_7758" • Momentchensammler - "One of those Days"

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